If you are in the early childhood field, you have probably heard of the benefits of using loose parts for learning and playing in the classroom. We know that loose parts encourage open-ended discovery, critical thinking, and creativity. However, implementing loose-parts learning in the classroom in a way that enhances curriculum and ensures state standards can seem overwhelming. Carla Gull, EdD, co-author of Loose Parts Learning in K-3 Classrooms, shares 3 easy ways that early elementary teachers can implement loose parts in the classroom today. Get the book for a vast array of ideas for using loose parts, and pick and choose the ones that work best for you and your students!
Hi, I'm Dr. Carla Gull. I'm coauthor of the book, Loose Parts Learning in K-3 Classrooms. I want to share a few quick tips on different ways to just implement loose parts right away in your classrooms. You may already be doing something similar and just hadn't thought of how this really brings the student choice and voice into what they're doing in a regular way.
1. Have “Loose Parts Starts” Bins
So, one way that I like to do it is just by having some “loose parts starts”— as I call them. You might call them “STEM bins” or “brain bins”. We have this set up open-ended, where the students can do it in any way they would prefer. It's okay to have parameters about how they're being used, but having an open-ended set up really allows that loose parts tinkering and experimenting to happen.
One way you might do that is just to have a bin. This might be for a whole table to use, or you can also have individual ones as well like this smaller bin or pencil box that has chenille stems in it that can be used lots of different ways. You can combine that with other things as well.
This bin has some colored craft sticks, some small squares, some clothes pins, and some binder clips. These can be used in so many different ways, and I love to see what the students create, experiment, and try with these. Additionally, you can do just a small container with “grab and go” items like some mirrors, some small characters, sticks, blocks— just small trinkets that can be used in a variety of ways. Trust me, the students will be able to use their imagination and creativity and use these in different ways.
2. Have a Junk Jar
Another way of doing things is just by having a junk jar in the classroom. I take a big, old pretzel container, clean it out well, and then have all kinds of junk in it. This is where I put the scraps and small things that may have additional life in our classroom, but I'm not sure what to do with. Examples of these items include small pieces of foam, some fabric, some corks, bottle caps, applesauce lids, clothes pins, and ribbons. This can just be pulled out a variety of times. I typically don't see these items as consumables, but things that can be reused over and over again by students for different purposes.
For example, we might take this out for “fast finishers” and have it at a station where students can use the items to apply to different classroom principles. Or it can be used for free choice time when students want to create, explore, and experiment with things. I like to document with taking a picture of their creations.
3. Have “Grab and Go” Loose Part Kits
A final way is just to have a “grab and go” kind of loose parts kits. For example, I like to use a muslin bag or something of this sort. In one, I might have some books about all kinds of different rocks, some clipboards with some paper in case they want to write some instructions, and then just a big container of rocks. That can be used in lots of different ways.
I love having these available. They can use these to write stories, to build stories, and to draw their stories—like a stonework play concept. They can also use it to categorize and do other things as well.
Another concept of that “grab and go” kit might be a math kit with measuring items. So often we put all of our tools for learning away in the cupboards, and only bring them out during that section of our mathematics. But what if we brought in our number lines and our measuring things— like measuring tapes and scales and things of that sort— so that students have practical ways to try and use these in the outdoors or in our classrooms?
They can then use all the loose parts that they find around as part of that. I like to include a few books just in case they'd like to explore the concepts in them as well. There's lots of different ways to do it.
So to recap, we talked about “loose parts starts”, a junk jar, and “grab and go” kits. All of those can be a great way to just quickly and seamlessly implement loose parts in your classroom today.